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Excerpt From "The Real Rules of Life: Balancing Life’s Terms with Your Own"

by Ken Druck


The following excerpt is taken from the book The Real Rules of Life: Balancing Life’s Terms with Your Own by Ken Druck. It is published by Hay House (Available May. 15, 2012) and available at all bookstores or online at: www.hayhouse.com .

Real Rule #1

Life Is Not Fair:

It Is More Than Fair

For most of my life, I lived under the assumption that life was essentially fair. The majority of us operate under this same principle, whether we know it or not. If we work hard to attain our dreams, we assume we’ll be able to achieve them. If we have children, we assume they will grow up into upstanding adults. If we put our hearts and souls into our work, we assume we’re going to get ahead. If we buy a house, we assume we’re going to pay off our mortgage in 30 years.

Then, something happens. A husband betrays us. We’re fired from our dream job. Our wife walks out the door and doesn’t come back. A child gets strung out on drugs. A dear friend becomes ill. At some point, we all come face to face with the stark and naked truth: life isn’t fair at all.

Up until my daughter Jenna’s death, I was living under the false assumption that my daughters would always be protected; that nothing bad could happen to them. I felt magically entitled to a long and happy life for Jenna and Stefie. And for myself. It was as if by doing all the right things—having a nice home, living in an affluent community, striving to be a good parent—I had struck a deal with life. And life, being essentially fair, would honor that deal.

But, as I learned that night in 1996, life isn’t fair. It’s never been fair, and it never will be.

Things Happen. Or Do They?

We’ve all heard the sayings, “Things happen.” And “Things happen for a reason.” After Jenna died, I heard them a lot. In their attempt to make sense of her death, people attributed it to everything from bad luck to God’s will. Someone even told me, “Everything works out for the best. God must have needed her in heaven.”

Then there were the folks who attributed her death to karma. “It’s all a part of the master plan,” they explained. “Jenna was meant to die. It was her destiny.”

The truth of my daughter’s sudden, violent death, like many things, is unknowable, and it would have resonated with me if someone had just said so. It’s our choice to believe what we wish and render our best guesses about why bad things happen, but every explanation of why this happened was completely unhelpful and unsatisfying to me.

We don’t get to know with any certainty whether life is random. There are some wonderful arguments for a higher intelligence. A plan. An order. A direction this is all going. And there are some equally wonderful arguments to the contrary. What I’m saying is: it’s beyond our capacity to know for sure what precise factors determine how things unfold in our lives. And why we die when we do. Or if there is even anything to be made sense of in matters like these.

However, that awareness should never stop us from feeling our way in the dark, from contemplating and/or investigating the “whys’’ of life. It’s only natural that we want to know—to intuitively, spiritually, and even scientifically understand more and more about the secrets of the universe. Surely, a deeper, richer understanding of life and death could be helpful to any one of us in the long run, even if it shakes up our world at first.

Of course, there are certain questions that all the scientific research in the world is unlikely to explain. For example: what happens to us when we die?

Part of the mystery of death was revealed to me, as it often is, during the time I spent with my daughter’s “remains.” Getting Jenna’s body home from India was an arduous, difficult process, in the end only made possible by the help of President and Mrs. Clinton and their staff. Her body arrived from India the day before her funeral, and I went to be with her one last time before the burial.

Nothing I have ever experienced comes close to the unspeakable pain of holding my daughter’s lifeless body in my arms. I needed to kiss and talk to her, to brush her hair from her eyes. I found myself searching for signs of life. But Jenna was no longer in her body. I had the distinct feeling that her spirit had moved on, and as I held her in my arms, I knew it.

When your child dies, all the theories you once had about life—the “Things happen” vs. “There’s a higher power” debate—go from being an elective credit to the curriculum. You need to know where your child is! It’s not very different than the questions you used to ask as a concerned parent—“Where are the kids tonight? What time are they going to be home?” When your child dies, you don’t stop asking, “Where is my child?” Or scanning the universe for “signs” of their whereabouts.

Sometimes, on birthdays or holidays, I go to the cemetery where Jenna is buried. And I can hear her telling me, “Dad, what are you doing here? That grave with my name and picture on it? That’s not me. You want to be with me? Then be with me. But I’m not here.”

It’s easy to get lost in theories about life and death. And humbled in our search for truth. We’ve all wondered: Is life a string of random events? Or is there a just and loving God overseeing all of this? Are we human beings having a spiritual experience, or spiritual beings having a human experience?

I don’t have the answer to these questions. All I can say is, I don’t know with any real certainty what death is. I can only bet my faith. Anyone who says they know for certain may be missing out on one of life’s most fundamental and divine elements—its sense of mystery. Death can be an ugly and horrifying mystery, but the end of life can also be beautifully mystical and profound.

Love is also one of life’s great mysteries—and miracles. Whether it’s romantic love, love between friends, or the love a parent has for a deceased child, loving and being loved is truly one of the most uplifting and confounding parts of being alive. But every yin has its yang, and the flipside of love is loss.

Losing a loved one means we must fight through the despair, the disillusionment, and all the beliefs we once held about “happily ever after” and “forever.” We’re going to feel heartsick, disoriented, and deeply sorrowful. It’s written in the small print of life that, at some point in our lives, we will all be devastated by a loss. And that we, too, will die.

If we know this—that life isn’t fair and losses are going to be a part of it—how do we equip ourselves and our children with a working knowledge of the Real Rules instead of placating them with sugar-coated myths, fairytales, and quick fixes? How do we help our kids struggle with these issues and develop the kind of coping abilities they will need? And set a good example as their parents?

It’s natural for every parent to want to protect our kids from the harsh realities, but if we over-protect them, they may never develop the ability to cope. On the other hand, carelessly putting them in overwhelming situations is foolhardy and even dangerous. How can we truly be there for our children in their times of loss, helping them cope with adversity rather than telling them to pick themselves up by their bootstraps, suck it up, and get over it?

Suck it Up, Grandpa

Years ago, I was giving a speech at a conference in Iowa when a middle-aged farmer told me a story I have never forgotten. This man had raised his son to be a real man’s man. In his day it was all about being tough and strong; showing emotion was something that only sissies did. Even in times of great loss or pain, his mantra was, “Suck it up and move on.” The man’s son now had a son of his own, and had raised him in much the same way.

One day, the man was out plowing a field with his seven-year-old grandson when his tractor broke down. As he was trying to fix a blade, it fell and cut open his hand. He soon realized he was a mile from the house, bleeding to death, and couldn’t move. Looking to his grandson, he said, “You have to get help for Grandpa. Please go to the house and get Grandma.”

The little boy turned to his grandfather, saw the blood pouring out onto the ground, paused for a moment, and then said, “Grandpa, just suck it up!”

Wondering whether his grandson could grasp the urgency of the situation, he thought to himself, What have I done? The mantra he had preached his whole life—“Be a man!”—could very well have killed him.


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